This blog is a posted version of the sermon I preached this morning at Springdale Lutheran, and in light of the events in Colorado, and in light of the day-to-day lives of so many  suffering sisters and brothers in the world.

The texts of the day were Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, and Mark 6:30-56.


Grace to you and peace to you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

It is good to be here.

Your congregation was Jesus to us after the accident in 2004.  I remain so grateful for your compassion toward us.  And it seems to be a habit of yours, as my parents still rave about their visit here some months ago.  They claim that they have never experienced such authentic hospitality at a church service, and with all due respect to them, they are not only people whose opinions are to be trusted as right and true, they’ve also been around for a while!

So it is an honor not lost on me to preach to this particular assembled portion of the body of Christ.

This week after the terrible events in Colorado, the same week when George Zimmerman claims that it was God’s plan to have killed Trayvon Martin, we’ve got passages before us about healing and being untouched by pain, once we are aware of or simply are under God’s love and promise.

What do we do when the texts of the Bible aren’t true?

That might seem to be raucous heresy, said from a pulpit.  And it helps that I get to say it and then leave–perhaps with you all chasing me, but either way, I get to leave!  Still, I’m going to push my luck and ask the question anyway, and again:

What do we do when the texts of the Bible aren’t true?

Since the accident, I’ve heard and read the Bible differently.  The texts that frightened me or confused me seemed clearer, for example.  I felt the urgency of those who wrote or received apocalyptic texts.  “How long, oh Lord, how long???” became my cry, a cry that mocked a hymn that before had been one of my favorites, Soon and Very Soon.  Soon compared to what, oh Lord?  How long?

And Matthew’s word to us that right before Jesus’ ascension, some of the disciples believed, and some doubted, sprung out at me.  I’d never caught that word doubted before.  But I did when God’s promises suddenly seemed powerfully doubt-able.

And healing texts.  Healing texts were the worst of all.

Psalm 23?  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.”  Who was the psalmist kidding?  Death threw its shadow on every single corner of my life and although I was defiant, I was also afraid.

And Jesus didn’t help, what with his regular reminders to not be just that, afraid.  We hear it in our Markan text today.  “Do not be afraid,” and then poof! The wind ceased.

Works great.

Except when it doesn’t, when the winds and the waves seem only to pick up intensity and ferocity and tenacity.

And then you get this line, “And whenever Jesus went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”

I did nothing every day but grasp for that cloak of his–still do, for that matter–and we still are in need of some righteous healing.

That’s not even to mention the thousands upon thousands of people who aren’t benefiting from even one loaf and fish, let alone an abundance of loaves and fishes to feed them or their children, day in and day out.

What do we do when the texts of the Bible aren’t true?

What do we do when we are afraid, when healing doesn’t come like it appears to have been promised, when soon-and-very-soon seem awfully relative?

I talk about my tale in this sermon because many of you know it, but also because it has changed out my lens through which I read and interpret scripture, and through which I read and interpret life’s events.  Like the ones from this past week.

Story and blog and eyewitness report, one after the other, speak about the question of God.  Where was God?  Is this part of God’s plan?

There was one lonesome exception, a relative of one of the victims who hoped that this tragedy wouldn’t shake people’s faith in God.

But so often it does.  And our faith is shaken not just because of this particular tragedy.

See, frankly, although I see this senselessness as a powerful expression of pain, and not for a moment do I want to diminish the excruciating losses that the victims and their families are now suffering, not to mention their communities: well over 28,000 children under the age of 5 die every day from hunger and preventable diseases.


Every day!


I know a woman, Kirsten, and I am blessed to call her ‘friend.’  She wrote this, yesterday, and I like it:

It matters whether we believe in acting with violence or believe in accepting and living out the suffering that is part and parcel of not solving our problems with violence. It also matters whether we are willing to restrict access to the opportunity to commit violence. Probably nothing else really matters so much for the kind of life we will live on earth. The only thing that helps me (grudgingly, at times) embrace the suffering is living in the presence of someone who did and does.

Oooof.  That helps.  That’s a bit of a balm.  Here’s the line that I want to tug at the most in this moment: “The only thing that helps me (grudgingly, at times) embrace the suffering is living in the presence of someone who did and does.”

I don’t need a show of hands here, this is a rhetorical question meant to be answered in your own minds, though I already have a hunch to the answer.  Who here has not been touched by pain and suffering and sorrow and loss?  Who here has not tried in vain to make sense of it?  Who here hasn’t wondered where God is in the midst of it?

Violence takes so many forms: the swift and stealthy sort we experienced two days ago, the slow drip of addiction and abuse; the gnawing chronic reality of sabotaged relationships and hopes and worries run rampant and health slipping away.

I used to think that this sort of talk, this fixation on the possibility of the worst and the saddest, was only for the neurotic.  But now I realize that it’s not just for neurotics anymore.  If you haven’t been touched directly by pain, either you will, or you should, for the world is not happy, through-and-through, and there are sufferers.

And we need ambassadors of God’s healing, and there are ambassadors of God’s healing.  The Kirstens of this world.  The Springdale Lutherans of this world.  These are the people who know that the world is not yet as promised in Jeremiah, and they protest that by their actions, by their words, and by their prayers.

Throughout the ages, Christians have told the story of a risen Jesus.  It’s a tale full of lots and signifying little if the story doesn’t change the lives of those who hear it.

Let me do, then, what you invited me to do this morning.

When you invited me to preach, you invited me to tell the story of Easter.  You might not have realized that, but as far as I’m concerned, a Christian sermon is not a Christian sermon unless it tells the tale of Easter.

Jesus alive again reveals God’s agenda.  God’s agenda is not pain and death and suffering. Were it to be so, then Jesus would still be dead in the tomb.

Instead, we who by faith trust that, despite the trend being that dead people stay dead, Jesus is risen, say that that’s where we see God’s vision for God’s creation.

And if we go by the name “Christian,” then we are throwing our lot into that empty tomb. Not the full one.  The empty one.   We are now ambassadors of the announcement that life wins.  We now protest death where we see it, and we protest it as an affront to God’s vision of life, creation, joy, peace, and safe trust.

As I was talking about this sermon preparation, little Else told me that it reminded her of a part of her book, Winn-Dixie, in which the readers learned of Littmus Block, a man who had suffered greatly in a war, and who went on to make Littmus Lozenges.  They sold like crazy, because he was able to put sweet and put sad in them.

They were honest candies.  Nothing, once you know sorrow, is ever entirely sweet ever again.

It’s like Holy Saturday, a day I call the most honest day, with one foot in the pain of Good Friday and the other in the promise of Easter.

Karl puts it another way.  He calls it “Doch.”  Doch is a German word that means, and I’ll put it this way because we are in a church and sometimes the word can be a bit, um, vehement, “I think that you may be wrong.”  After the accident, I asked Karlchen this: “Karlchen, when the doctors said that you’ll never walk again or talk again or make mischief again, what did I say to them?” And he will say, “Doch!”

We are called to be Ambassadors of the Doch.  And when we do, we do not erase the truth of the pain, but we do not acknowledge it as having ultimate power either.  We acknowledge it enough to doch it, and we doch it in the name of the risen Jesus, who does come to bring healing, and hopes that he can work though us to make it real, and make it true.